Among my ancestors, Toussaint Grugel
by Jose Guilherme Correa
has always been a most curious subject.
Grugel was a 16th Century Frenchman
who travelled to, and settled down in Rio.
At that time, foreigners used to be,
whenever captured, immediately hanged
unless the Portuguese thought they were trustful.
It was nearly impossible, for heretics
in Antarctic France, to escape the gallows.
Toussaint Grugel, an immigrant of Calvinist
faith had turned 13 when he reached Brazil.
The Reform was then seduced by the idea
of implementing a supporting bulwark
in the New World so that the reformed Christians
might at the same time avoid persecution
and amplify the reign of Jesus Christ
on lands that were ignorant of the Lord.
In 1556 Grugel and family
embarked on the Grand Roberge, with a hundred
emigrants. As they left the port of Havre,
bellicose volleys, trumpets, drums and fifes
cheered the boisterous, boosting crowd around.
They anchored, at first, on the Bay of Caulx;
the next day, they started to cross the sea;
impetuously, they faced every illness,
the agitated ocean, strikes of waves,
and the danger of submersing, till
they came across the famous and mysterious
West Indies, also baptised as America
as Amerigo Vespucci "discovered"
her in the year 1497.
They lowered the boat next to mount Uassu,
shot pro forma their artillery guns,
suddenly saw unaccountable Indians
on the beach, fully naked men and women
colourfully painted, covered with feathers,
showing shaved heads like medieval friars,
pierced lips with encrusted stones and rings.
as they took off their stones from mouths and ears,
Grugel was under the impression that
they owned double mouths! How ugly they were!
The fleet proceeded to enter a seaway
called Guanabara by the Indians, and
called January by the Portuguese.
On an island now known as Villegagnon,
the newly arrived ate dinner made of
smoked fish with roots cooked over hot embers.
As for drink, there was no fountain available:
they drank the water of a cistern, actually
the drained water from the rain that had fallen;
that looked like green, dirty water from puddles
inhabited by frogs and other creatures.
Toussaint felt somewhat sick, but he knew perfectly
that that foetid liquid was even better
than what he'd drunk on the ship Grand Roberge!
First time in his life, he slept on a hammock.
In France, the family scored a clean break
from Saint Bartholomew's Night and its horrors.
In Brazil, the Grugels came to know intimately
another form of man's cruelty - cannibalism.
They faced the constant risk of being caught,
killed and eaten, but the truth is, Toussaint
did enjoy those horribly hellish shows;
he was often charmed by the adorned arrows
with blue, green or scarlet plumes flying amidst
the sun's rays that made them shining and glittering.
To say the least, cannibalistic rites
were stupendous, if you know what I mean.
When they fried the flesh of a single prisoner
(sometimes, in one day two or maybe three
prisoners were killed and eagerly eaten)
the Indians gathered altogether and,
showing ferocious looks, stood staring at
the members and meat cuts of beaten enemies.
Every one was entitled to a slice,
no matter how many natives were there;
Indians found the human meat fine and delicate
but their intent, as they finished to gnaw
the bones of the dead, was to cause amazement
and, of course, to frighten the fearful living.
They were moved by vengeance rather than gluttony.
From feet fingers to the top of the head
they spared nothing, not even the foes' noses,
Only one part remained untouched: the brain.
For skulls, they kept receptacles that looked
like the gravestones of a villainous cemetery.
The thickest bones from thighs and arms were kept,
in order to produce fifes. As for teeth,
once rolled and linked, they formed picturesque necklaces.
These murderers' reputation was glorious;
they were honoured as fine, proven folk heroes.
Into their own bodies - chests, arms, thighs, legs -
bloody incisions were firmly performed,
usually on the same day of the killings;
a high number of bodily cuts meant
that the Indian had killed multiple prisoners,
thus valiantly superior he was.
Whenever the Tupinambas, allies
of the French detachment, offered Grugel
human meat, he refused it altogether;
then they thought that he was being disloyal.
His life was full of defeats and adventures.
Since childhood, he was much impressed by whales;
yes, formidable whales used to frequent
and live along the Brazilian coast line,
so near the shore that musket shots could easily
reach them; but bullets could not penetrate
the whales' skin to the point of hurting them.
To cut my story short, whales were eventually
the main source of Grugel's income and wealth:
sperm whale hunting through Guanabara Bay
(judging from the amount of whales we notice
nowadays, his was likely a fine job...)
He was also a fine soldier and swordsman
who was the leader of a Corsair squadron
marching on Cabo Frio, when his fleet
was defeated by the Portuguese, and
he was captured by Captain Botafogo
(many sources assure us that the modern
district of Botafogo owes its name
to this very character): well, the Captain
was supposed to execute the French rebel.
Instead, Botafogo married Grugel
to his own daughter-in-law, Miss Domingas!
The wedding took place in 1606.
Between bride and groom there was an age difference
of 43 years: one was 63,
the other was 20 (say, a bit ripe
for those times of precocious wedlock, wasn't she?)
The Grugels had overall 7 children.
Until 1626, when he died,
Toussaint survived therefore one execution,
was defeated and made prisoner in
a military operation, was the husband
of his virtual executioner's daughter
- no less than the child of a wealthy nobleman -
and single-handedly performed all this;
he had no riches, militia or lands.
My guess: either Machiavellian and cunning,
or tropical Casanova upstart;
he did become meteorically rich,
perhaps purchasing everything and everybody;
otherwise, if honest, he had charisma
and integrity, which opened to him
a variety of closely guarded doors
in the best fashion of a thrilling mystery.
One of his grandchildren, Claudio Gurgel,
was a rich landowner, and very powerful:
the Hill of Gloria, in Central Rio,
used to belong to him, but he donated it
to the Catholic Church so that a wonderful
stone tomb or monument were carved therein
for himself and his descendants (that's where
I step in as much as the concerned offspring!)
- but the agreement was ignored because
the Brotherhood preferred to build, instead,
the magnificent little church that stands
to this day on the Hill (come on now, cousins,
how about filing a possession mandate? !)
I know that I haven't given this matter
the pertinent style, or the proper gravity
it deserved, but I would appreciate it
if you ignored my usage of the language,
and considered how dire is the task
of telling stories; please accept this one
as bona fide, credible, and amicable.